Sanctioning Pakistan can backfire, US lawmakers warned

us-lmWASHINGTON: United States lawmakers were warned at a congressional hearing that sanctioning Pakistan or declaring it a state sponsor of terrorism could backfire.

A transcript released on Sunday shows a lively debate on the issue at the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which held a hearing on US-Pakistan relations.

In his opening statement, the committee’s chairman Senator Bob Corker expressed frustration with Pakistan’s alleged lack of cooperation in defeating militant groups still active in neighbouring Afghanistan.

Senator Corker, a Republican, and Senator Ben Cardin, the ranking Democrat on the committee, also asked the witnesses to explain what measures US policymakers could take to make Pakistan cooperate.

“In order to justify major policy shifts like eliminating aid, labelling Pakistan a state sponsor of terrorism, or enacting sanctions, US policymakers should be able to explain how such actions would make America’s strategic predicament better,” said one of the witnesses, Prof Daniel Markey of the Johns Hopkins University.

“They would need to consider the possibility that coercion could backfire, raising tensions and making Islamabad less willing or able to advance any constructive agenda.”

Mr Markey said that the next US president could take “a far more coercive approach” with Pakistan than the outgoing president, Barack Obama.

“But I think given the likely cost and benefits I expect we are more likely to reduce and restructure assistance to Pakistan than to end it all together,” he added. And in the process, the US should find ways to more clearly “link our ends with our means” and also to impose appropriate conditions in ways that more Pakistanis and Americans will actually understand.

Toby Dalton, a co-director of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, explained that there was a vast difference between what the US should and could do.

“Ideally, the United States and others should seek ways to convince Pakistan to flatten the growth curve of its nuclear programme. The honest assessment is, however, that since Pakistan embarked on a nuclear weapons programme, very little the US has tried, whether sanctions or inducements, has had an appreciable impact,” he said.

Robert L. Grenier, a former station manager in Islamabad of the US Central Intelligence Agency, told the committee that in 1993 and 1994 Pakistan “came within a hairsbreadth of ending up as a formal member of the list of state sponsors of terrorism” but US national interests prevented Washington from doing so.

Senator Corker recalled that in May this year, the Senate put a hold on allowing Pakistan to use US funds for buying F-16 aircraft, “which I think is appropriate”.

The senator said the US government and lawmakers were all “becoming more and more frustrated” with their relationship with Pakistan.

He claimed that the Afghan militant Haqqani network’s leaders had been living in Pakistan and the Pakistani government knew where they lived but would not cooperate with US efforts to eliminate them.

“What in essence has happened is, where we used to be able to take them out (using drones) in the Fata areas, now that they’re living in the suburban areas, we cannot do that.”

Senator Cardin noted that banning Pakistan from using US funds to buy F-16s was very complicated. “There were many factors engaged in our discussions. And quite frankly, we didn’t think we had all the information we needed,” he said.

He noted that Pakistan was a strategic partner in the war against terrorism but the US still had major concerns about that relationship, “as they seem to be very selective in fighting terrorism”.

He noted that the US had used “conditionality of aid” in the past as well but it was not very effective.

“So the question is how can we use our tools more effectively to change the behaviour in Pakistan? Is there a better way of doing this?” Senator Cardin asked.

“If money is not the answer (then what is)?” asked Senator David Perdue, a Republican from Georgia, noting that all three witnesses agreed that engagement with Pakistan was still purposeful.

Senator Perdue noted that out of $19 billion provided to Pakistan since Sept 11, 2001, only $8bn were actually for security efforts, while $11bn were for humanitarian purposes.

“So, let’s put in perspective. It’s not like this is a major battleground for us in terms of money. But on the other hand, I don’t know what they’re going to do given that we’re cutting off $300 million or half of the money that we would normally be sending them this year,” the senator said.

Prof Markey said that US assistance to Pakistan should be divided into three categories:

“Category one, things where they want and we want. Category two, we and they want similar things but they want to do it differently than we think is right. Category three, areas where we want to tell them what we think they should do and we believe they are not doing.”

“We hold out resources as inducements with limited expectations that those things will change but demonstrating that we are willing and eager to be partners with them, thereby not closing doors over the long run but not delivering assistance for things that they don’t do,” said Mr Markey while explaining how the US should use its assistance to get the required results.

“We’ve been in for so many years where we provide them with broad assistance which is not accounted for in a very tactical way and somehow expecting that we can use that as a tool, as a lever, to get them to change aspects of their behaviour that, frankly, they simply are not going to change,” said Mr Grenier. -DN

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